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Pawlenty, lawmakers to discuss flood relief

Zumbro Falls Mayor Al VanDeWalker, center, addresses residents from the back of a pickup Sunday during a meeting east of Zumbro Falls on Highway 60. At left is Mark Windschitl, assistant chief of operation for the St. Louis Park Fire Department. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Carlos Gonzalez)

ZUMBRO FALLS (AP) -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty visited flood-damaged areas of southern Minnesota on Sunday and said he'd meet with lawmakers to discuss the possibility of a special session to address getting aid to those affected.

While visiting Zumbro Falls, Pawlenty also said he'd ask the White House to make a disaster declaration so that the process of damage assessments can begin. Pawlenty said damaged roads, bridges and schools would qualify for financial assistance, but "it remains to be seen whether we'll (qualify) with respect to individual losses."

Pawlenty told the Post-Bulletin of Rochester that the residents he spoke with are "sad, but they're strong. ... They're wanting to get information, but they're interested in rebuilding."

He'll meet with legislative leaders today to discuss a special session.

Residents of Zumbro Falls and Hammond -- two of the cities hardest-hit by flooding from last week's heavy rains -- got a chance to briefly go to their homes Sunday to fetch medications or other essentials. It was the first look many had of the damage.

In Hammond, where an estimated 70 percent of the houses are unsalvageable, Mayor Judy Radke prepared residents for the worst.

"Let's get some of this wishing out of the way. We're not going to sugarcoat nothing," Radke said. "The reality is, you're not going home, and I'm sorry to be the one to have to tell you. When this mess is all over, that home is not going to be there."

Newlyweds Chad and Tiffany Domke returned to the trailer home they share with Chad's uncle to find it submerged.

"Where do you start?" Tiffany Domke asked. "What do you do?"

Coming out of the home in inch-deep mud, Chad Domke carried a pair of boots, a bottle of cologne and other items from the medicine cabinet. He said it's time to leave Hammond, the place where he grew up.

"No, I'm out," he said. "I'm out of here after 28 years."

Zumbro Falls Mayor Al VanDeWalker said about 60 of the 90 homes in the community are lost.

"One-half of my fire department lost their homes, over one-half of the City Council," he said.

In Zumbro Falls, the city sewer plant was destroyed, and cleanup can't begin until it's working again.

"Early in the week, we'll hopefully start getting people back in their houses" to start the cleanup, VanDeWalker said.

Roger Luhmann, a 52-year-old, lifelong Zumbro Falls resident, lost his manufactured home when it was carried off its foundation and cracked against a tree. He saved some power tools, tractors and antique Model-T cars, but the rest of his possessions are lost.

"I was trying to move stuff, but I just never got it all out," Luhmann said. By the time he gave up the fight: "I was waist-deep in it, and it (the current) was strong."

"I've seen floods," Luhmann said, "but nothing like this."

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also toured the area Sunday, visiting Faribault, Owatonna, Pine Island and Zumbro Falls. She commended the volunteers and emergency personnel who kept people safe.

"The fact that no one was hurt or died is an amazing fact and tribute to their work," Klobuchar told The Associated Press.

Klobuchar said she'll report what she sees to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to the White House. She said she'll stress how important it is to get aid to the people and businesses who need it.

"People's lives were turned upside down, just like their houses," Klobuchar said. "It's going to take a long time for many of them to come back."

State emergency officials said incident management teams and other resources were in Zumbro Falls and Hammond to help. The National Guard has 96 soldiers helping with security and traffic control in southern Minnesota. The Guard is also helping transport essential resources.

Several roads were also closed Sunday, including an 11-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 169 from St. Peter to Le Sueur because of water on the roadway.

Emergency management officials say they'll continue to monitor river levels in southern Minnesota. Areas of concern for the coming week include the Minnesota River in Scott and Carver counties and the Mississippi River at St. Paul and Hastings.